By CHUCK SHEPHERD
In March, twin sisters Louise and Martine Fokkens, 70, announced their joint retirement after more than 50 years each on the job — as Amsterdam prostitutes. (In February, the minimum age for prostitutes in the Netherlands was raised to 21, but there is no maximum.) The twins estimated they had 355,000 client-visits between them, and Martine noted that she still has one devoted regular whom she’ll have to disappoint. Louise, though, appeared happier to hang up her mattress for good because of arthritis. The sisters complained about the legalization of brothels in 2000 (with East European women and pimps out-hustling the more genteel Dutch women) and ensuing taxation (which required the women to take on more clients).
n “Traditional Taiwanese funerals (combine) somber mourning with louder, up-tempo entertainment to fire up grieving spirits,” reported BBC News in February. They are tailor-made, in other words, for Ms. Liu Jun-Lin, 30, and her Filial Daughters Band with their acrobatic dance routines because Liu has the reputation as Taiwan’s most famous professional mourner. After the musical festivities, Liu dons a white robe and crawls on her hands and knees to the coffin, where she “performs her signature wail.”
n A 12-hour TV miniseries shown this winter on Norway’s government channel NRK, “National Firewood Night,” was conceived as a full series, then cut to “only” 12 hours, eight of which focused entirely on a live fireplace. Nearly a million people tuned in to the series, and at one point 60 text messages came in complaining about whether the wood in the fireplace should have been placed with bark up or bark down. “(F)irewood,” said the show’s host, “is the foundation of our lives.” A New York Times dispatch noted that a best-selling book, “Solid Wood,” sold almost as many copies in Norway, proportional to the population, as a book’s selling 10 million copies in the U.S.
n The newest beauty-treatment rage in China, according to Chinese media quoted on the Inquisitr.com website in March, is the “fire facial,” in which alcohol and a “secret elixir” are daubed on the face and set ablaze for a few seconds, then extinguished. According to “ancient Chinese medicine,” this will burn off “dull” skin — and also alleviate the common cold and reduce obesity.
n Most of Iceland’s 320,000 inhabitants are at least distantly related to each other, leading the country to compile the “Book of Icelanders” database of family connections dating back 1,200 years. With “accidental” incest thus a genuine problem, three software engineers recently created a mobile phone app that allows strangers to “bump” phones with each other and know, instantly, whether they are closely related. In its first few days of release in April, the developers said it had already been used almost 4,000 times.
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n New York City Councilman Dan Halloran was charged in April with aiding state Sen. Malcolm Smith’s alleged bribery scheme to run for mayor — thus bringing Halloran’s extraordinary back story light as the first “open” pagan to be elected to office in the U.S. Halloran converted in the 1980s to medieval Theodish, whose outfits and ceremonies resemble scenes from Dungeons & Dragons — horns, sacrifices, feasts, duels using spears and public floggings.
n At least 11 people were killed and 36 injured on March 15 in Tlaxcala, Mexico, when a truck full of fireworks exploded as Catholic celebrants gathered. Rather than remain in the safety of their homes, they had been moved to honor Jesus Tepactepec, the patron saint of a village named after him.
n In March, a vegetable wholesaler in India’s Jharkland state decided that a pumpkin he purchased was so enormous (about 190 pounds) that it must be a reincarnation of the god Shiva — and he began worshipping it. A priest counseled the man to continue his fealty until the following Sunday, a holiday, after which he should carve it into pieces for devotees.
n In Buri Ram, Thailand, in March, a woman sliced open a sausage to find the distinctive body of a very small kitten, which she took to be a symbol of some sort deserving to be placed onto an altar. Neighbors gathered to pray to it, also, and several said they had considered the woman so fortunate that they played her age (52) in a local lottery, and won.
An unnamed man was hospitalized in April in Tucson, Ariz., after firefighters, finding him unconscious at 3 a.m. pinned under an SUV parked in his driveway, lifted the vehicle and dragged him to safety. A police spokesperson learned that the man was trying “a stunt in which he was going to put the SUV in reverse, jump out and lay on the ground behind it, have the vehicle (roll) over him, and then get up and (get back into) the SUV in time to stop it before it collided with anything.”
While “comprehensive immigration reform” winds through the U.S. political process, a few countries (including the United States) have already severely bent the nationalistic standards supposedly regulating entry of foreigners. The U.S., Britain, Canada and Austria allow rich investors who pass background checks to qualify for an express lane to residence or citizenship, and the line is even less onerous in the Caribbean nations of Dominica and St. Kitts & Nevis, which offer quick citizenship for investments of $100,000 and $250,000, respectively — the latter especially valuable, allowing access to 139 countries including all of Europe.